SYDNEY: Many marketers are labouring under the mistaken impression that viral videos are about spreading from "one to many" on the strength of the creative when in fact distribution is the most important factor, according to one academic.

Dr Karen Nelson-Field from the Centre for Digital Video Intelligence at the University of South Australia went so far as to say that "viral is perhaps one of the most grossly misused words in marketing today".

Speaking at a launch event for Unruly Media's shareability algorithm, reported by Ad News, she outlined the reason that most videos fail to go viral is simply because "the share rate is a lot less than you think".

While marketers frequently make much play of how often content is shared, she said her own research suggested that average share rate for videos is 24-to-one, i.e. typically 24 people will have to view a piece of content to achieve a single share.

"When your ratio is less than one-to-one, the reality is that the diffusion curve is negative not positive," Nelson-Field stated. And that means that the role of distribution plays a vital role in determining whether content will be widely shared.

"If you start with a small viewing base it will also decay small," she explained. "So if you've got 100 people and it's 24-to-one, your burnout is going to happen fairly quickly; but if you start with a thousand people, even if the ratio is the same, you'll still gain more shares."

She added that the word "viral" meant that marketers sometimes imagined the sharing process was somehow akin to a biological epidemic.

"But it's not a biological disease where all of a sudden I sneeze on you and then 20 people are sick," she said.

If distribution is the key to going viral, certain types of creative can also lift the sharing rate, particularly very emotional content. Nelson-Field scotched the idea that the use of cats and babies had any impact in this regard.

Her final take was that "distribution is king and content is queen".

Data sourced from Ad News; additional content by Warc staff